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Mason & Dixon. by Thomas Pynchon
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Mason & Dixon. (original 1997; edition 1997)

by Thomas Pynchon

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3,669302,028 (4.02)112
Member:sibyx
Title:Mason & Dixon.
Authors:Thomas Pynchon
Info:NY: Henry Holt (1997), Edition: Advance reading copy., Paperback
Collections:Your library, Favorite Men Authors
Rating:*****
Tags:fiction american

Work details

Mason & Dixon: A Novel by Thomas Pynchon (1997)

  1. 20
    The Sot-Weed Factor by John Barth (billmcn)
    billmcn: Another sprawling comic picaresque written in 18th century prose
  2. 00
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    DeusXMachina: Another (fictional) collaboration between two very different scientists: This time Carl Friedrich Gauss and Alexander von Humboldt.
  3. 00
    The Island of the Day Before by Umberto Eco (paradoxosalpha)
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  4. 00
    Water Music by T. C. Boyle (Widsith)
    Widsith: Two postmodern adventure novels about eighteenth-century British explorers.
  5. 00
    The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell (zottel)
    zottel: Very similar feeling, perfect story-telling in well-researched historical fiction.
  6. 02
    Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell: A Novel by Susanna Clarke (paradoxosalpha)
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English (29)  Italian (1)  All languages (30)
Showing 1-5 of 29 (next | show all)
I had a lot of fun reading this. ( )
  Stubb | Aug 28, 2018 |
Pynchon has been, for me, an acquired taste, but like fine wine, once you acquire it, you wonder how you missed the beauty for so long. Sure, there are still moments (mostly the jokey ones) that I find a bit flat, but here in Mason & Dixon, his first work after a long publishing hiatus, Pynchon is at his best. It's written in a made-up "Olde Style" of writing (it's impossible to do it justice in a review), but it actually works. At least it worked for me. I found the story utterly engrossing and a real intellectual joyride. ( )
  MichaelBarsa | Dec 17, 2017 |
I'm writing this review with about 20 pages left to go. I don't usually do this, but so what. [Update: the last 20 pages are some of the best]

This is a unique book: the writing is beautiful at times, and opaque at others, and both often. I would say it took about 200 pages before I really found my groove, and that involved using Wikipedia's List of Mason & Dixon Episodes to help me figure out just what the fuck was going on. I had assumed going in this would be a historical fiction with some silly Pynchon flair thrown in every now and then. Instead I'd say it is mostly the other way around: more silliness, less history and character study. Although, it must be admitted that Rv. Cherrycoke is taking a lot of his silly anecdotes from historical examples (The Duck!)

I don't know how to say it, but I guess I expected this to be more like Vollmann's [b: Argall|300738|Argall The True Story of Pocahontas and Captain John Smith|William T. Vollmann|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1311648155s/300738.jpg|291807], but it turned out to be more like Barth's [b: The Sot Weed Factor|24835|The Sot-Weed Factor|John Barth|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1349029340s/24835.jpg|457683]. However, unlike Barth, Pynchon can fall back on the fact that this is a story told by a Narrator, with an audience that changes and often directs the tale through explicit and implicit means. And that's a pretty powerful narrative trick. I mean, I'm not all that interested in ghostly mechanical ducks, or feng-shui, or talking dogs. I didn't truly 'get' why I was reading so much about these silly things. Perhaps they are entertaining on their own? I couldn't help but try to read the deeper meaning in these things. If there is one, then hats off to Pynchon for being so very very smart. If not... then, well, personally I'm just not that much of a [a: Tom Robbins|197|Tom Robbins|https://images.gr-assets.com/authors/1430660478p2/197.jpg] kind of guy. However, with the fact that we know who Rv Cherrycoke's audience is, all of a sudden it gives reason for these fanciful tales. And I start to enjoy it all the more for this very reason.

Some highlights are: Rebekah; the actual history (transit of venus, revolutionary fervor, the Line); the incestuous cousins; the Reverend and his interrupting audience; Mason & Dixon as people and as companions ("There is a fragility to Dixon now, a softer way of reflecting light, such that Mason must accordingly grow gentle with him. No child has yet summon'd from him such care."); Dixon fighting the slave-driver; this quote: "Listen to me, Defecates-with-Pigeons. Long before any of you came here, we dream'd of you. All the people, even Nations far to the South and the West, dreamt you before ever we saw you, - we believe'd that you came from some other World, or the Sky. You had Powers and we respected them. Yet you never dream'd of us, and when at last you saw us, wish'd only to destroy us. Then the killing started, - some of you, some of us, - but not nearly as many as we'd been expecting. You could not be the Giants of long ago, who would simply have wip'd us away, and for less. Instead, you sold us your Powers, - your rifles,- as if encouraging us to shoot at you,- and so we did, tho' not hitting as many as you, as you were expecting. Now you begin to believe that we have come from elsewhere, possessing Powers you do not... Those of us who knew how, have fled into Refuge in your Dreams, at last. Tho' we now pursue real lives no different at their Hearts from yours, we are also your Dreams."

Ultimately I went in with the wrong idea, but I'm leaving with a whole new appreciation of what a novel can do... and that's quite the feat. Also: this book could probably have been another 800 pages long. There really is no reason for it to ever end... ( )
2 vote weberam2 | Nov 24, 2017 |
16. Mason & Dixon by Thomas Pynchon
published: 1997
format: 773 page hardcover
acquired: December 2015 from Half-Price Books
read: Mar 1 - Apr 13 (that's 44 days, but who is counting?)
rating: ????? (five question marks)

Don't read this book. That's one conclusion - I mean, if you're like me. I just put a lot of time into this, and there were consequences. For one, I don't know what I got out of it, or what you should. I've read a couple intelligent reviews, and they didn't change my feeling about that. It's massive and it wanders, and it plods, and it never, ever provides a clear picture of anything - whether about the story line, or what Pynchon is really trying to say or mean. He says a lot and undermines what he says a lot. He brings in a endless supply of real historical trivia with real mind-altering stuff in there, and then fills it with wildest of fiction and fantasy, even pulling in on those early science fiction-y novels where characters go to new lands, planets, under the earth or wherever (children of Thomas Moore's Utopia). "The reclusive Pynchon writes as if everything is connected to everything else, and detours so obsessively en route that even the revelation that there is actually no revelation seems extraordinarily significant."* So, I think I confidently say that any pronouncement on this book should be taken to be foolishy overconfident, obviously including this one.

My main take away is that this is Pynchon's play on the Age of Reason when the sciences were flawed with imagination and the occult was merely part of the process. When skills of measurement were refined to quite an extent and yet unknowns could fumble forward ideas, and when making things known had some troublesome imperative with unpredictable outcomes. How else do two rural born children become skilled master-craftsmen, who build nearly perfectly, over four years, a line in the almost wilderness, guided by the stars, that will quite soon become meaningless, and then later on define the American chasm that clashed in that Civil War. And yet, neither Charles Mason or Jeremiah Dixon would manage to become part of the Royal Society, or really amount to all that much. More humble creatures lost in the human machine. Or something.

Pynchon brings out a Mason and Dixon that are tied to facts well enough, are well defined full personalities, and hardly likely to be anything like anyone who ever existed. They bicker as their relationship fumbles forward, their skills taken for granted. They each have their struggles. Mason, the Astronomer, has more internalized struggles as he works through his melancholy and loss of his wife. Dixon, a surveyor, the more practical one, tied better into the real world. Albeit, a world defined by learned talking dogs, invisible angry automaton ducks, and, well, slavery, among other insane and wild encounters.

This is the sequel in process and theme to V. and Gravity's Rainbow. Like them, this is a ball of confusion with wacky happenings and many a drug-trip type scenes. But, it's really toned down in comparison. It's less wacky, less druggy, with less sex. The sex which was both disgusting and all over the place in the earlier two books here is reduced to implication and flirtation. When a group of gnomes or some such creatures want to explore Dixon, and asks him to undress as much as he is comfortable doing so, he takes off his shoes, but leaves his hat on.

I've noticed over the last several years how I struggle to link into the mindset of a book, to get the tone well enough that I can come along for the ride. It's like something I need to figure out, to learn, hopefully before I get too far into the book. I never got it here, never really tied in. The book always seemed to fall through my fingers somehow, remaining a other, and leaving me to plod along uncomfortably and unconfident. Of course it's all in humor and fun, and I could see that and kind of smile at myself. And that does make the book both easier and something other. Ultimately, it's not really intended to be taken in any kind of full seriousness. But, it seemed I fell in, and then couldn't find a comfortable place to sit anywhere. So, I just stumbled on through. The book has ended quietly, but I'm still stumbling along.

*Not sure what original source is, but it's quoted here: https://www.lrb.co.uk/v19/n14/jenny-turner/when-the-sandwich-was-still-a-new-invention
1 vote dchaikin | Apr 15, 2017 |
Although ostensibly a work of historical fiction about Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, the astronomer-surveyor tandem that surveyed the Mason-Dixon line in the 1760s, it's quickly apparent that this novel is much more. Pynchon inhabits eighteenth-century language and form, from the digressive sentences to the stories within stories within stories, and captures the clash of reason and the supernatural characterizing both the so-called Enlightenment and early America. An absolutely stunning book in every respect. At turns uproariously funny and deeply moving. The final chapters almost unbearably poignant. ( )
  jalbacutler | Jan 10, 2017 |
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Für Melanie und für Jackson
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Snow-Balls have flown their Arcs, starr'd the Sides of Outbuildings, as of Cousins, carried Hats away into the brisk Wind off Delaware,—the Sleds are brought in and their Runners carefully dried and greased, shoes deposited in the back Hall, a stocking'd-foot Descent made upon the great Kitchen, in a purposeful Dither since Morning, punctuated by the ringing Lids of Boilers and Stewing-Pots, fragrant with Pie-Spices, peel'd Fruits, Suet, heated Sugar,—the Children, having all upon the Fly, among rhythmic slaps of Batter and Spoon, coax'd and stolen what they might, proceed, as upon each afternoon all this snowy December, to a comfortable Room at the rear of the House, years since given over to their carefree Assaults.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0312423209, Paperback)

A sprawling, complex, and comic work from one of the country's most celebrated and idiosyncratic authors, Mason & Dixon is Thomas Pynchon's Most Magickal reinvention of the 18th-century novel. It follows the lifelong partnership and adventures of the English surveyors Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon (of Mason-Dixon Line fame) as they travel the world mapping and measuring through an uncharted pre-Revolutionary America of Native Americans, white settlers, taverns, and bawdy establishments of ill-repute. Fans of the postmodern master of paranoia will recognize Pynchon's personality in the novel's first phrase: "Snow-Balls have flown their Arcs," a brief echo of the rockets that curve across the skies in the writer's masterpiece Gravity's Rainbow.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:05:19 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

The lives of two 18th century British astronomers who surveyed the boundary which settled a dispute between Maryland and Pennsylvania, and was later extended to become the boundary between free and slave states, the Mason-Dixon line. The novel describes their work in Africa and America, and traces their relationship.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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